I just did a detailed interview on my decades of research on systemic white racism with the leading philosopher of racial issues, George Yancy, at the New York Times Opinionator blog, the Stone. See this link.
In the recent announcement of his candidacy for the Republican Presidential nomination, Donald Trump took the opportunity to hurl an ignorant, Hitleresque tirade against immigrants from Mexico. Trump reached deeply into the White Racial Frame bag and came up with the worst:
When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
Reaction against Trump’s statement was swift and widespread. Much originated in the business community which likes to avoid controversy. Some of the participants were major corporations:
On Monday, NBCUniversal cut all ties with Mr. Trump, saying it would no longer air the pageants or ‘The Apprentice. Televisa, the world’s largest Spanish-language media company, also cut ties. Carlos Slim, the Mexican billionaire, scrapped a television project . . . On Wednesday, Macy’s said it would drop his fashion line, which had been sold in the store since 2004.
An additional loss happened when Mexico decided not to send a contestant to Trump’s Miss Universe pageant. Finally, another setback occurred when two renowned chefs pulled out of Trump’s upcoming luxury hotel in the historic Old Post Office Pavilion in Washington, D.C:
Geoffrey Zakarian, the chef and a partner at the Lambs Club and other Manhattan restaurants, was to open a branch of the National, his brasserie-style restaurant in Midtown, in the new hotel. But on Thursday, he said in a written statement that ‘the recent statements surrounding Mexican immigrants by Donald Trump do not in any way align with my personal core values.’ Mr. Zakarian’s decision to abandon the project, scheduled to open in 2016, follows that of the chef José Andrés. Mr. Andrés has said that Mr. Trump’s statements made ‘it impossible for my company and I to move forward.’
Trump, the billionaire businessman, paid a very high price for his tirade. I am at a loss to understand his machinations. Trump did not make any friends in the Republican Party. John McCain stated: “I disagree with his comments.” Mitt Romney objected to Trump’s comments because of the damage they caused the Republican Party.
The objections of two Florida Republican figures were particularly strong. Marco Rubio labeled Trump’s comments as “extraordinarily ugly, offensive and inaccurate.” Jeb Bush questioned Trump’s motives and added a personal note to his disapproval:
[H]e’s not a stupid guy, so I don’t assume he thinks that every Mexican crossing the border is a rapist. He’s doing this to inflame and incite and to draw attention, which seems to be the organizing principle of his campaign.
Bush went on to say that he took Trump’s comments “personally” (his wife is from Mexico).
Hector V. Barreto, an advisor in all Republican presidential campaigns since 2000, went a step further beyond other Republican figures by exhorting the Republican Party to reject Trump:
The Republican Party is going to have to be much more aggressive in dealing with him . . . And I would expect my party to do that, to call him out. . . Maybe this is our Sister Souljah moment when we say, “He is not a Republican, he does not represent us, he needs to get off the stage.”
Trump encountered severe disapproval in Arizona, a staunch Republican State, to a planned speech in Phoenix. Among the critics were Republican leaders who were not attending the event, John McCain among them. But it was worse than that. The business community, as represented by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, declared Trump persona non grata:
“The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry is proud to have played host earlier this year to events featuring three of the leading Republican presidential contenders: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush,” said Glen Hamer, president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “I expect we will welcome additional candidates from both parties in the fall. Donald Trump will never make the cut. His recent comments on Mexico are not only despicable, but they reflect an individual who, despite his billions, is astonishingly ignorant about Mexico, trade and immigration.”
Although few and far between, some Republican politicians supported Trump. Not surprisingly, Ted Cruz embraced Trump warmly: “I’m proud to stand with Donald Trump.” A second fan was Jan Brewer, former Governor of Arizona who gained infamy by signing one of the most vicious anti-immigrant laws in the United States which among other things legitimated the racial profiling of Latinos. Brewer averred:
I believe that Mr. Trump is kind of telling it like it really, truly is. . . You know, being the governor of (Arizona), the gateway of illegal immigration for six years, we had to deal with a lot of things.
Although apparently many Republican leaders wish that he would disappear, Trump is popular with voters. In two recent polls he placed first, followed by Jeb Bush.
Trump brought down the house when he delivered his standard racist speech in Phoenix on July 12. Although there were some dissenters in the audience, the vast majority of the crowd of over 5000 received him warmly. Donald Trump has made it big recently because his oratory evokes a widespread anti-Mexican hatred, an old part of the White Racial Frame. It is not clear where this will take him, but one thing is sure: he has given racist passion a shot in the arm.
At dawn on June 27, 2015, Bree Newsome (with support from local activists) scaled the flag pole in front of South Carolina’s courthouse in Charleston. She took down the Confederate flag. Her spotter, James Ian Tyson, dressed as a construction worker, supported her from the ground as she went up and remained as a handful of police officers appeared and surrounded him until she came down. Bree was immediately arrested.
In the continued aftermath of the Charleston massacre, as black communities across the country struggled to hold space for death and disaster (once again), and make sense of another terrorizing attack on their humanity (once again), Bree’s act of defiance (courageous in the extreme and accomplished with the support of local activists) lifted spirits around the country and the world. I know I was waaayyyyyy up (felt blessed). I wasn’t the only one:
@BreeNewsome is a Tisch-trained performance artist. She knows EXACTLY what she's doing. She's saying "watch me." She's saying "let's go."
— eve ewing (@eveewing) June 27, 2015
— Diamond Sharp (@diamonde) June 27, 2015
The removal of the flag by @BreeNewsome and her team was the greatest planned direct action I've seen. Ever.
— Zora Neale Baéston (@bdoulaoblongata) June 27, 2015
— Ol' QWERTY Bastard (@TheDiLLon1) June 27, 2015
By 11 am, the flag was back up–in time to wave over a Confederate flag rally—causing a Ferguson activist to remark on Twitter that Mike Brown was on the ground longer than the flag was off the pole.
By 6 pm, Bree was out of jail, thanks in part to crowdfunded bail support organized by Ferguson Action and Color of Change.
Two days later, her statement, exclusive to Blue Nation Review, included these words:
“I removed the flag not only in defiance of those who enslaved my ancestors in the southern United States, but also in defiance of the oppression that continues against black people globally in 2015, including the ongoing ethnic cleansing in the Dominican Republic. I did it in solidarity with the South African students who toppled a statue of the white supremacist, colonialist Cecil Rhodes. I did it for all the fierce black women on the front lines of the movement and for all the little black girls who are watching us. I did it because I am free.”
Four days later, on July 1, Bree wrote:
I've already spent more time in jail for unhooking a confederate flag from its post than the cop who assaulted a black girl in #McKinney
— Bree Newsome (@BreeNewsome) July 2, 2015
On July 10, just shy of two weeks after Bree scaled the pole, South Carolina voted and (with fanfare) finally brought down the Confederate flag.
— deray mckesson (@deray) July 11, 2015
Actions and symbols matter. My AAIHS colleague Brian Purnell has already outlined the history of the Stars and Bars in the North, as a symbol of racialized segregation and a stubborn determination on behalf white supremacists to deny black people in the United States access to rights, resources, or acknowledge black humanity:
Nowadays, some white Southerners (and black ones too) say that the flag serves as a symbol of their heritage. It honors their ancestors. They argue that the Confederate flag does not stand for slavery; even though that flag flew over armies that marched to create a new nation built to preserve white supremacy and racial slavery.
Eric Foner, interviewed in the wake of the Charleston massacre, pointed to the flag’s history as an expression and avowal of white supremacy:
As you know, and as it has been reported many times, the Confederate flag was only put up on top of the Statehouse in South Carolina in 1962. It was put there as a rebuke to the civil rights movement. It was not a long-standing commemoration of Southern heritage. It was a purely political act to show black people in South Carolina who was in charge.
And Eugene Robinson, son of South Carolina, wrote this week:
And no amount of revisionist claptrap can change the fact that the flag was hoisted at the capitol in Columbia in 1961 and kept flying not to honor some gauzy vision of Southern valor but to resist the dismantling of Jim Crow segregation. The flag meant whites-only schools, whites-only public accommodations, whites-only voter rolls. It represented white power and privilege over subjugated African Americans. It was used by the murderous terrorists of the Ku Klux Klan — and by an ignorant young white supremacist who allegedly took nine innocent lives at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
So there is no question removing the flag from a former center of the Confederacy has meaning.
There is also no question, as my AAIHS colleague Noelle Trent has noted, taking down the flag does not solve racial inequality or prevent black violence:
The act of removing the Confederate flag from various venues and merchandise does not lessen the legacy of racism in the country, and all of the ideologies it would embody. Something must arise in its place. There must be a concerted effort to engage with the country’s history and racial legacy while also progressing forward with substantive change. The substantive change advocated by people like Medgar Evers and Thurgood Marshall.
The timeline around Bree Newsome, her action and her arrest, her organized and community funded bail support and subsequent release, her statement on her action and her reflection on the McKinney girl, suggests some of this same tension—triumph immediately followed by resurgence of white supremacist symbology, freedom followed by an acknowledgement of continued violence against black women and girls.
Meanwhile, the state legislature removed the flag with almost no mention of Bree’s magnificent feat, a tiny bit of erasure of black women’s history which we cannot let stand and which allows elected officials across the state, white and black, male and female, to claim the removal of the flag as their success as a state, their racial reconciliation. And it is and it is not.
We remember. Her action mattered. Actions matter. History matters. Black thought matters.
Bree removing the flag in an act of defiance isn’t the same as the state removing the flag. Through her action, and through the actions and organizing of insurgent #blacklivesmatter activists, in Marcia Chatelain’s #FergusonSyllabus, in grassroots historic commemorations and community rituals like Maafa in New Orleans, we find the seed of what “progressing forward with substantive change” looks like.
The first step is what leads to climbing a flag pole. The first step is labor, love, and, as Robin Kelley encouraged at the Stephanie Camp symposium at the University of Washington, theorizing in the communities we reside and alongside activists on the ground. It is showing up as a participant and an actor. It is holding space. It is in acts of radical love and trust, as Kristie Dotson has described. Discussing what it means to do and be a black feminist philosopher, in a text that could read the same for black feminist historians by simply replacing a word, Dotson writes:
“Doing black philosophy, in general, and black feminist philosophy, in particular, requires one to trust that our ancestors have indeed thrown their theoretical production (i.e., their practice and their principles) into this century, as we, by engaging in black theoretical production and beyond, throw ourselves into future centuries.”
Bree’s act, in an antiblack and violent context as the United States in the era of Ferguson and Dylan Roof has proven to be, was as radical an act of love and trust as those of an enslaved woman named California, who posted “amalgamation prints” or abolitionist-related drawings around her cabin. California, too, had “an idea that she is free.” California, too, pissed certain people off because she would do “as she pleases.” And, but for the radical love and daring (re: Dotson) of black female historian Stephanie Camp, in the historical narrative, California’s act of defiance would be usurped by slaveowner prerogative and written out of time as irrelevant, only an isolated case, not enough of a source. In truth, acts of constitutional emancipation have overshadowed actions like hers. But, as with Bree, California’s challenge and risk was also a seed. It both preceded and nurtured the cataclysm that would lead to the end of slavery in the United States.
The one seems so small in the shadow of the other–abolitionist print material in the hands of the enslaved and the abolition of slavery. But that is because we forget that we deal in impossible things.
As AAIHS colleague Guy Emerson Mount has already noted, black diasporic people have long dealt in impossible things:
For historians, this state of affairs is particularly stupefying to say the least. Even the most cursory study of black intellectual history will show that the thoughts of African Americans, both high and low, on everything from empire, to citizenship, to human rights and especially to scientific conceptions of race have proven themselves to be accurate and prophetic time and time again. As if by clockwork, each generation of black thinkers is dismissed as crazy, irrational, and self-interested only to be redeemed and celebrated a generation later by mainstream America as the visionary vanguards and the moral centers of the nation as a whole. To borrow from Bob Marley borrowing from the Bible: “as it was in the beginning, so shall it be in the end.”
For black women scholars, as educators, organizers, human beings, this has been especially true. “We specialize in the wholly impossible” was a phrase coined by 19th century black educator and activist Nannie Helen Burroughs and returned to use by black women historians Darlene Clark Hine, Wilma King, Linda Reed as the title of their 1995 reader, We Specialize in the Wholly Impossible: A Reader in Black Women’s History.
Watching the discussion around the Confederate flag occur from New Orleans, seeing covers of the South Carolina Post and Courier circulate on Twitter, knowing on July 9, the day before South Carolina brought their Confederate flag down, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu called for “a 60 day discussion period on relocating four Confederate monuments across the city,” I’ve been struck by how impossible some things have seemed. Impossible for some to imagine we could just take the flag down, much less that it would be taken down by a young black woman in full climbing gear. Impossible for the city of New Orleans to remove Robert E. Lee from his lofty height on the circle St. Charles Ave, a campaign which has gone on for years, and which seems to be coming full circle in just the last few days. Impossible, for some historians, to believe black people, as philosophers, intellectuals, and stewards of their history for centuries, won’t somehow remember to commemorate the violence against them (and their resistance to it and, where applicable, their triumph over it) if these symbols are taken down.
If these small acts are impossible, no wonder it seems impossible for police to stop killing or to not exist. Impossible for prisons to be abolished and not exist.
Bree Newsome climbed a flagpole to take down a flag that has flown continuously over the South Carolina statehouse since 1961. In 1847, California kept amalgamation prints in her cabin. It is a radical act to trust that these everyday impossibilities, made possible and necessary in black women’s hands, are more than just flashy moments. That they should not be erased from the script and should actually be central and causal to, for example, state officials’ decision to remove the flag. That they should be elevated. That what happened outside the statehouse—Bree and beyond–is crucial to what movement making, community building, and social justice is doing to make the world we want to live in, perhaps more than what happened inside the statehouse. That black women must be centered in all of these acts and actions because they are central. “A voice interrupts, says she.”
And it is an act of black intellectual history and our responsibility to see the long trajectory of actions that seem small, seem impossible, coming to fruition in black women’s hands as knit with what seems like huge and impossible change but is really only just waiting in the wings.
~ This post written by Jessica Marie Johnson, Assistant Professor of History at Michigan State University, originally appeared at the African American History Intellectual Society (AAHIS) blog and is re-posted here with permission.
Debates about poverty play out over a heavy sub-text of race. Competing theories assign blame either to moral and cognitive deficiencies of poor people themselves, or to greedy over-lords who unjustly exploit and suppress workers and their families. The class politics are obvious, but arguing the essential unfitness of poor people is aided immeasurably by the rhetoric and logic of racism. If made of somewhat different stuff and recognized as lesser peoples, then both exploitation and the misery they experience seem defensible, or at least unavoidable. Science defeated the hard racial argument in the middle of last century when geneticists determined that race is a biological fiction. But the concept of culture offered a workaround that retained the utility of race by substituting ethnicity. The shift to culture, instead of hard-wired traits, has appealed to liberal “third way” reform thinkers as well as those on the right, forging an odd alliance who find common ground in the hagiography of Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
The “culture of poverty,” a concept ironically made popular by a trio of liberal leftists in the 1960s, asserts that children raised in poverty learn failure from their upbringing and pass it on to their own children, much like inherited physical traits. Shared cultures in “ghetto” communities produce dysfunctional patterns of thought and behavior that perpetuate poverty. Oscar Lewis, anthropologist; Michael Harrington, muckraking journalist; and Daniel P. Moynihan, federal policy analyst and future politician, were the three figures who helped ignite a contentious debate early in the War on Poverty, which not coincidentally over-lapped with the Civil Rights movement.
Moynihan’s influence has been most enduring. His 1965 report, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action (PDF), brought this idea to the mass media in the midst of an extended urban uprising in the Watts section of LA. As an assistant secretary in Lyndon Johnson’s Department of Labor, he issued an official verdict that African American poverty was mired in a “tangle of pathology” resulting from excessive numbers of female headed households. Moynihan conceded that male unemployment unsettles marital stability, but believed that racial disparities in joblessness reflected a family structure that produced uncompetitive workers, implicitly justifying employer discrimination. Growing public unease over urban violence magnified the report’s message that African American culture was pathological.
The leaked report was followed by weeks of coverage and many extreme reactions. The government was launching a campaign to end poverty; an official report defined the problem in terms of gender, race, and culture, deflecting attention from substantive obstacles and economic problems then (and still) confronting African Americans. The report was dissected by critics and supporters alike. Moynihan’s naïve statistical inferences and reliance on limited secondary sources weakened his position and tended to discredit his thesis. Anthropologists and historians published research that contradicted his assertions. Through the 70s and early 80s, the report lost its luster. Moynihan complained periodically about the criticism he had endured over his report, claiming he had been the victim of ideological enemies on the left. It could have ended there.
The 1980s was a period of revanchism against the Great Society, backlash against what were deemed excessively liberal conditions in the preceding two decades. Under Reagan, Sen. Moynihan opposed the new harsh policies, but his earlier ideas about black poverty gained renewed support, especially from right wing commentators like Charles Murray. Also included, however, was liberal sociologist William Julius Wilson who praised Moynihan’s foresight, excoriated his critics, and instated culture into his quest to understand poverty. Wilson framed inner city poverty as the home of the “underclass” where black middle class flight had left a zone bereft of upstanding two parent families, a cultural sink lacking effective norms. Faced with wrenching industrial changes, their defective culture worsened the problems — a combination of cultural and structural causes, suggesting possible partial solutions addressing bad culture rather than unfair economics. This approach resonated with many in the Republican administration, but it also drew interest from a widening circle of academics and liberal policy analysts.
In 2007, the American Academy of Social and Political Science established an annual award in Moynihan’s name for public intellectuals of note. Their journal published a special issue titled “The Moynihan Report Revisited,” with largely praiseful articles and missing some noted critics. The Urban Institute borrowed the title for their own conference and publication [[http://www.issuelab.org/resource/moynihan_report_revisited_the]] that was also mainly an homage to Moynihan’s allegedly prescient contributions. In 2010 Herbert Gans, a sociologist who had written an early response to the report, revisited it in light of all the new praise for its importance. He came to the same conclusion he had 45 years earlier; it was not good research or a credible argument. He praised Moynihan’s work as a senator, but not as a scholar or early policy analyst.
Nevertheless, Moynihan’s fame as a social prophet has continued to grow and his ideas arguably have helped steer scarce poverty funding into neoliberal programs aimed at teaching poor people about the virtues of middle class culture, or forcibly displacing them for their own good. And we have spent billions more incarcerating and punishing non-violent poor people of color based on faulty perceptions of crime and risk. Both critics and supporters credit the Moynihan Report for helping shape the policy environment that ended welfare and anointed the view that poverty, race, and crime are all tied together. Alice O’Connor’s book, Poverty Knowledge, offers an incisive analysis, as described in my recent book, Blaming the Poor.
In the United States poverty and race are frequently connected in the mind’s eye, in what Joe Feagin has called the white racial frame, where facts disappear in the mist of centuries long racial conditioning, like the fact that “welfare queens” in the days before welfare was ended were overwhelmingly white. Current revivals of Moynihan’s haplessly racist caricature of immoral black single mothers and their dangerous teenaged sons disregard the fact that single motherhood has soared among all ethnic groups, especially among people with low incomes, a predictable response to dire economic conditions. It is not cultural, but structural; not racial but a reflection of class inequality and material scarcity. Moynihan was fond of saying that people are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. Moynihan’s sloppy research and undeservedly popular conclusion illustrates that caution very well.
Susan Greenbaum is Professor Emerita of Anthropology, University of South Florida
There is an epidemic in our country. Other epidemics like obesity and AIDS create injustice in the body, but this one creates injustice in our society and the ways in which we relate to one another. We have a name for this disease: colorblindness.
What are the symptoms of colorblindness? The most notable is the refusal to admit that the color of a person’s skin affects that person’s opportunities in America. Other symptoms include a callous rationalization of racial violence, a denial of one’s own racial prejudices, a minimization of ubiquitous bigotry, and, in extreme cases, a belief that race is a personal choice.
Let’s take a look at some recent cases of this rampant disease. Several weeks ago, Tahera Ahmad ordered a can of soda on a United Airlines flight. For sanitary reasons, she requested an unopened can, but she was denied. “Big deal,” you might think. “It’s probably just some obscure airline regulation about canned drinks, right?” Unfortunately, no. This was a symptom of America’s insidious disease.
This isn’t about me and a soda can. It’s about systemic injustice that is perpetuated throughout our community.
That systemic injustice is influenced in part by color-blindness, which allows the privileged to overlook or even to justify their most horrific prejudices. On this United Airlines flight, nobody stood up for Ahmad when another passenger told her to “f… off” and said that Ahmad “would use [the unopened can] as a weapon.” How can anyone claim that racist institutions can be relegated to a “dark chapter in America’s history” when blatant discrimination like this occurs on a major American airline? The answer is simple: the narrative of colorblindness states that color doesn’t matter anymore, that minorities have won the battle for equal treatment, and that they no longer have any reason to think they are oppressed.
It appears that United Airlines has a bad case of colorblindness. It is an institution and its top priority is not social progress; it is self-preservation. In their apology to Tahera Ahmad, representatives of United did not mention anything about discrimination. They did not mention racism or Islamophobia. For them, it was a matter of rudeness and bad customer service. They simply did not see that being non-White and Muslim has a painful effect on American citizens.
Another incident of colorblindness was highlighted in some of the responses to the recent shooting in South Carolina. The culprit, a young White man named Dylann Roof, shot and killed nine Black worshippers during Bible study. To give you some background, by Roof’s own account, he was not raised in a racist home or educated in a racist school; he was a racist by choice. After reading racist texts about the “Jewish problem” in 1940s Europe, Roof accepted a racist ideology and wrote his own racist manifesto, in which he systematically described the unique failings of everyone who was not White. This racism and nothing else motivated his murder of nine Blacks in a historically Black church.
The reality is clear, but America’s severe case of colorblindness produced an incomplete and distorted response from its politicians. Lindsey Graham (SC-R) claimed that Roof was just “one of these whacked out kids” and “obviously twisted.” Jeb Bush called it “tragic,” and Rick Perry called it “unspeakable.” Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Mike Huckabee sent their heartfelt prayers via tweet, and Rick Santorum called the event “an attack on religious liberty.” Ben Carson called it an act of “hate” and “intolerance.” To Donald Trump, it was “incomprehensible.” To Hillary Clinton, just “heartbreaking.”
But what is truly tragic, unspeakable, whacked out, twisted, incomprehensible, and heartbreaking is the fact that only one presidential candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), responded to this undeniably racial attack by bringing up race. He had the sense to describe the incident as a “reminder of the ugly stain of racism on our country” and of the fact that we are “far from eradicating racism.” Thank you, Bernie.
As for the other future leaders of our country, it appears that they, too, have been infected and debilitated by a resistant strain of color-blindness. They refuse to admit that the color of a person’s skin still affects that person’s opportunities in America. They rationalize racial violence as religious intolerance, mental disturbance, or unexplainable hatred. They deny the terrifying strength of racial prejudices. They minimize the role of bigotry. It seems they are blind to the racial realities of our times, and they are of no help to the non-Whites who still struggle, on a daily basis, for equality, freedom, and justice.
In 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the commencement address at Oberlin College. He said:
Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability, it comes through…tireless efforts and persistent work… [and] without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation.
The more the Civil Rights movement sinks into the background of our minds as an event in “history,” the more the epidemic of colorblindness incapacitates us. So long as our government and corporations deny their daily institutional complicity in the racial violence we see nearly every day in America, we will remain trapped in a cycle of oppression and denial.
I agree wholeheartedly with Dr. King. Colorblindness is like any other epidemic. It will not eradicate itself over time. It needs treatment, and it needs it now. Every day that we spend waiting for a cure is another day that the disease of color-blindness has triumphed. What should you do? A better question might be, What can you do? Because you should do everything you can.
First, it is essential to write your representatives and demand that they publicly admit the persistent problem of racism in America. Demand that they serve the diverse body of voters who elected them—not just the interests of Whites or otherwise privileged people. Demand that they open the political discussion to include race and that they address the shambles in which America’s current racial understanding lies.
Second, talk about race. Have earnest discussions, and follow them up with action. Remember that a thousand mile march begins with a single step. Let’s take a step today.
On this Independence day it is well to remember yet again a probing and candid speech, “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro,” given by the formerly enslaved and probably greatest 19th century American, Frederick Douglass, at Rochester, New York, on July 5, 1852, at the peak of North America slavery (indeed, about 230 years into that era).
In this era Black Americans were usually not allowed at 4th of July celebrations in the slaveholding South, apparently because many slaveholders feared that they might get an idea of freedom from such events (as if they did not already have such an idea!). Also, Black residents were often discouraged from attending such festivities in the North.
It is in this very dangerous and hostile national racial climate that the great Douglass–increasingly, a leading intellectual of his day and the first Black American to receive a roll-call vote for US President (later on, at the 1888 Republican national convention!)–was asked by leading citizens of Rochester to give an address at their Fourth of July celebrations. He gave them this stinging indictment of racial oppression:
Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men, too-great enough to give frame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory.
But later adds:
What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.
Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.
Take the American slave-trade, which we are told by the papers, is especially prosperous just now. Ex-Senator Benton tells us that the price of men was never higher than now. He mentions the fact to show that slavery is in no danger. This trade is one of the peculiarities of American institutions. It is carried on in all the large towns and cities in one-half of this confederacy; and millions are pocketed every year by dealers in this horrid traffic. In several states this trade is a chief source of wealth. It is called (in contradistinction to the foreign slave-trade) “the internal slave-trade.” It is, probably, called so, too, in order to divert from it the horror with which the foreign slave-trade is contemplated. That trade has long since been denounced by this government as piracy. It has been denounced with burning words from the high places of the nation as an execrable traffic. To arrest it, to put an end to it, this nation keeps a squadron, at immense cost, on the coast of Africa. Everywhere, in this country, it is safe to speak of this foreign slave-trade as a most inhuman traffic, opposed alike to the Jaws of God and of man. The duty to extirpate and destroy it, is admitted even by our doctors of divinity. In order to put an end to it, some of these last have consented that their colored brethren (nominally free) should leave this country, and establish them selves on the western coast of Africa! It is, however, a notable fact that, while so much execration is poured out by Americans upon all those engaged in the foreign slave-trade, the men engaged in the slave-trade between the states pass with out condemnation, and their business is deemed honorable.
Behold the practical operation of this internal slave-trade, the American slave-trade, sustained by American politics and American religion. Here you will see men and women reared like swine for the market. You know what is a swine-drover? I will show you a man-drover. They inhabit all our Southern States. They perambulate the country, and crowd the highways of the nation, with droves of human stock. You will see one of these human flesh jobbers, armed with pistol, whip, and bowie-knife, driving a company of a hundred men, women, and children, from the Potomac to the slave market at New Orleans. These wretched people are to be sold singly, or in lots, to suit purchasers. They are food for the cotton-field and the deadly sugar-mill. Mark the sad procession, as it moves wearily along, and the inhuman wretch who drives them. Hear his savage yells and his blood-curdling oaths, as he hurries on his affrighted captives! There, see the old man with locks thinned and gray. Cast one glance, if you please, upon that young mother, whose shoulders are bare to the scorching sun, her briny tears falling on the brow of the babe in her arms. See, too, that girl of thirteen, weeping, yes! weeping, as she thinks of the mother from whom she has been torn! The drove moves tardily. Heat and sorrow have nearly consumed their strength; suddenly you hear a quick snap, like the discharge of a rifle; the fetters clank, and the chain rattles simultaneously; your ears are saluted with a scream, that seems to have torn its way to the centre of your soul The crack you heard was the sound of the slave-whip; the scream you heard was from the woman you saw with the babe. Her speed had faltered under the weight of her child and her chains! that gash on her shoulder tells her to move on. Follow this drove to New Orleans. Attend the auction; see men examined like horses; see the forms of women rudely and brutally exposed to the shocking gaze of American slave-buyers. See this drove sold and separated forever; and never forget the deep, sad sobs that arose from that scattered multitude. Tell me, citizens, where, under the sun, you can witness a spectacle more fiendish and shocking. Yet this is but a glance at the American slave-trade, as it exists, at this moment, in the ruling part of the United States.
And then concludes with this:
Americans! your republican politics, not less than your republican religion, are flagrantly inconsistent. You boast of your love of liberty, your superior civilization, and your pure Christianity, while the whole political power of the nation (as embodied in the two great political parties) is solemnly pledged to support and perpetuate the enslavement of three millions of your countrymen. You hurl your anathemas at the crowned headed tyrants of Russia and Austria and pride yourselves on your Democratic institutions, while you yourselves consent to be the mere tools and body-guards of the tyrants of Virginia and Carolina. You invite to your shores fugitives of oppression from abroad, honor them with banquets, greet them with ovations, cheer them, toast them, salute them, protect them, and pour out your money to them like water; but the fugitives from oppression in your own land you advertise, hunt, arrest, shoot, and kill.
The far off and almost fabulous Pacific rolls in grandeur at our feet. The Celestial Empire, the mystery of ages, is being solved. The fiat of the Almighty, “Let there be Light,” has not yet spent its force. No abuse, no outrage whether in taste, sport or avarice, can now hide itself from the all-pervading light. The iron shoe, and crippled foot of China must be seen in contrast with nature. Africa must rise and put on her yet unwoven garment. “Ethiopia shall stretch out her hand unto God.” In the fervent aspirations of William Lloyd Garrison, I say, and let every heart join in saying it:
God speed the year of jubilee
The wide world o’er!
When from their galling chains set free,
Th’ oppress’d shall vilely bend the knee,
And wear the yoke of tyranny
Like brutes no more.
That year will come, and freedom’s reign.
To man his plundered rights again
Sadly, our system of racial oppression still persists, even as most white Americans are in denial about its deep and foundational reality. Yet, there remain many people like Frederick Douglass today who still fight to remove this “yoke of tyranny” from us all. May they flourish and prosper. We should remember those now and from the past who fought racism most on this day to celebrate freedom.
Some forty-two years later, in the last speech (“Lessons of the Hour”) he gave before his death—at an AME Church in DC, on January 9th, 1894—Douglass made these comments as he watched southern and border states hurtle toward bloody Jim Crow segregation, the new neo-slavery system:
We claim to be a Christian country and a highly civilized nation, yet, I fearlessly affirm that there is nothing in the history of savages to surpass the blood chilling horrors and fiendish excesses perpetrated against the colored people by the so-called enlightened and Christian people of the South. It is commonly thought that only the lowest and most disgusting birds and beasts, such as buzzards, vultures and hyenas, will gloat over and prey dead bodies, but the Southern mob in its rage feeds its vengeance by shooting, stabbing and burning when their victims are dead. I repeat, and my contention is, that this “Negro problem” formula lays the fault at the door of the Negro, and removes it from the door of the white man, shields the guilty, and blames the innocent. Makes the Negro responsible and not the nation….. Now the real problem is, and ought to be regarded by the American people, a great national problem. It involves the question, whether, after all, with our Declaration of Independence, with our glorious free constitution, whether with our sublime Christianity, there is enough of national virtue in this great nation to solve this problem, in accordance with wisdom and justice.
He concluded thus, his very last words ever spoken in public:
But could I be heard by this great nation, I would call to to mind the sublime and glorious truths with which, at its birth, it saluted a listening world. Its voice then, was as the tramp of an archangel, summoning hoary forms of oppression and time honored tyranny, to judgment. Crowned heads heard it and shrieked. Toiling millions heard it and clapped their hands for joy. It announced the advent of a nation, based upon human brotherhood and the self-evident truths of liberty and equality. Its mission was the redemption of the world from the bondage of ages. Apply these sublime and glorious truths to the situation now before you. Put away your race prejudice. Banish the idea that one class must rule over another. Recognize the fact that the rights of the humblest citizen are as worthy of protection as are those of the highest, and your problem will be solved; and, whatever may be in store for it in the future, whether prosperity, or adversity; whether it shall have foes without, or foes within, whether there shall be peace, or war; based upon the eternal principles of truth, justice and humanity, and with no class having any cause of compliant or grievance, your Republic will stand and flourish forever.
According to political conservatives, racial discrimination is no longer an institutional issue, and there is no longer any need for policies that provide socioeconomic protections for Blacks. Political conservatives also say that if any racial discrimination is happening, it is being committed by only a few bigoted individuals. These individuals, they say, have been socialized to hold such bigoted notions and believe that Blacks are lazy and inferior and that it is okay to commit racist acts against them.
The Donald Sterlings and Robert Copelands of the United States have been undoubtedly shaped by a racist culture. The U.S. government sanctioned discrimination and gave Whites permission to denigrate Blacks openly. But these sorts of people don’t hold those beliefs anymore, right? After looking at demographics information, I’m not so sure. Consider this: according to the U.S. Census taken in 2010, there were more than 23 million Whites over the age of 70 in America. By contrast, there were slightly more than 39 million Blacks in all age brackets. Why is this significant? Because the number of Whites 70 years and older equals more than half of the total Black population, who are potentially voting on or in some way influencing policies that affect all Blacks. Whites born in the early 1960s (those over age 50) would have also been socialized and participated in the practice of Jim Crow Racism. They number more than 56 million.
Let’s remind ourselves what was going on when these older Whites were young. Whites currently over the age of 50 engaged in race relations in the context of Jim Crow. Until the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, Jim Crow continued legally and unrestricted. Brown v. Board of Education was aimed at the integration of public schools in the South, but it had broader implications as well, which included the end of Jim Crow laws. With the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965, Jim Crow became a federal offense. This, of course, did not end racism. Despite being “illegal,” Jim Crow discrimination continued unofficially in small towns up until the 1990s.
If this lingering Jim Crow representation does not bother you enough, remember that these 80 million plus individuals had families, friends, and children. The racism of their social milieu became ingrained in their minds, and from them it spread passively and actively to their children and families: passively by imitation, actively by subtle, deliberate instruction. The end of legal, public discrimination has not prevented private discrimination from flourishing beneath the surface and continuing to have an effect on public policy, albeit in a subtler, more insidious way.
In light of this, it is evident that racism has strong institutional support. More than 80 million people in the United States were taught early on that it is okay to discriminate. Not only was it okay, but it is normal and expected. I don’t mean that every White person born during the era of legal racial discrimination is automatically a racist bigot. There have always been Whites who recognized the injustice of discrimination from the start. But if these Whites are of the same ilk as Donald Sterling and Robert Copeland, socialized during the 1920s through the mid-1960s when it was legally permissible in the United States to commit racial discrimination, then I have to raise a point against the political conservatives: More than 80 million people is certainly not “a few bigoted individuals.”
This institutional support aside, we cannot ignore the ugly fact that people can be racist, even violently racist, without this socialization. Dylann Roof, the White who wanted to start a “race war” by shooting nine Blacks in Charleston, South Carolina, was 21 years old. Not only that, but in a document reported to be his manifesto, he writes, “I was not raised in a racist home or environment.” Instead, he writes, he got his ideas from books. Contrary to how Roof is presented by various media outlets, he was not mentally disturbed or psychologically unstable. He was just plain racist. And Roof is surely not the only racist in America. Racial discrimination is therefore not just an artifact of Jim Crow socialization; it is a persistent cultural phenomenon that can overtake people of any age and any family background.
It is certainly not legally permissible now to discriminate against Blacks without a bona fide occupational qualification as it was back then, and it is not socially acceptable now as it was then to openly disparage Blacks or otherwise discriminate against them. But this does not protect Blacks from the political power of the racist vote, and it does not shield them from a bullet fired from a racist gun. It does not ensure that children will learn in their classrooms to actively accept those who look differently from them and to judge them “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” It does not ensure that Blacks will earn anything more than 64 cents on the dollar compared to Whites in similar professions. But it does ensure that privileged people will push aside racial issues as a thing of the past, what our President has called “dark chapters in our nation’s history,” embarrassing mistakes that we don’t—and shouldn’t—bring up anymore.
It should alarm us that a large group of privileged people who were socialized in a racist culture still hold significant representative power over Blacks. It should alarm us, and it should remind us that the abolition of Jim Crow is not a good enough reason to think that Black people in America can ease up on the struggle for freedom and equality. Blacks cannot passively accept the racist ideology according to which race “no longer matters.” Race does matter, and it will probably always matter, and Blacks need to lobby actively for policies that protect their socioeconomic interests against the real threat of racial discrimination.
What is lacking in numbers needs to be made up for in tenacity.
Lessie Branch is a Racial Policy Scholar whose research interests focus on race and class disparities in general and the discordance between Black racial attitudes and Black economic progress specifically. Lessie is on faculty at Monroe College in the School of Business and Accounting.
Jeb Bush finally announced his candidacy for President of the United States as a Republican. According to a reporter, Jeb portrays himself as
[A]n executive animated by big ideas and uniquely capable of carrying them out, pointing to his record in Florida of introducing a taxpayer-financed school voucher program, expanding charter schools, reducing the size of the state government by thousands of workers and cutting taxes by billions.
He also portrays himself as near-Latino.
One of Bush’s campaign major strategies is the pursuit of the Latino vote. It centers on Bush’s claim to Latinos that “I’m close to you, I understand you”: I speak your language, I embrace your culture and I know firsthand the immigrants’ experience. He says nothing about issues of importance to Latinos.
Bush’s repeatedly emphasizes his fluency in Spanish. He also asserts that Spanish is important in his family: He and his wife speak Spanish at home and their children are bilingual. OK Bush, it’s nice that Spanish is important to your family, but how does that help Latinos? Does that mean that you’ll champion immigration justice or accessible health care for poor Latinos? If not, which is certainly the case, your Spanish is just for show.
Bush also proclaims a deep attachment to Mexico:
Here in the U.S., Cinco de Mayo has become a day where we celebrate our ties with Mexico and the great contributions of the Mexican-American community in the U.S. In my case, this relationship is very profound. My wife Columba was born in Mexico, my family has always had strong ties with Mexico and I have great respect and affection for our neighboring country.
What Mexico are you talking about, Jeb? The Mexico of Mexican elites? I doubt that you are speaking of the large number of people that would need your help the most: the undocumented poor who experience exploitation in their jobs and racial profiling on the streets.
I know the power of the immigrant experience because I live it each and every day. I know the immigrant experience because I married a beautiful girl from Mexico.
Come on, Jeb: Are you serious? What immigrant experience are you talking about? Your wife married a wealthy white aristocrat whose family includes two former Presidents of the United States. Your wife’s experiences have nothing in common with the mass of Latin American immigrants. She has almost certainly not been racially profiled in public spaces or spent years in this country without papers afraid that after years of hard work she could be apprehended and deported.
Jeb touts portions of his biography that are vacuous and not substitutes for a clear statement about how he would address as President the needs of the mass of Mexican and other Latino immigrants or the large population of poor US born Latinos. Don’t expect Latinos to vote for you simply because you speak Spanish and your wife is a Mexican immigrant. Offer them concrete solutions to their problems.
Viewing the narrated event of Charleston within the dark and secure confines that surrounded me under a waxing crescent moon, created a nauseating pit within the center of my chest. As the news began to sift in, the sensation proceeded to raise the minuscule fine hairs upon the back of my petered-out neck. Knowing nothing in particular about the city, beyond the fact that it was not on my bucket list of places to visit, seeing the old and famous AME church and Charleston, South Carolina police lights splashed across my high-definition screen created a sense of confounding distress and sadness my soul had issue in articulating. Before the picture was put to color and detail, I knew, I secretly knew. It was not simply a lunatic, as pundits like to describe the distant “other.” It was not ISIS. It was not gang violence. It was not a disgruntled parishioner or jealous spouse looking to settle a scorned romantic score. It was an ancient, but at the same time, an in-vogue thriving hate of another kind!
It was hard for me to watch as I rested that night, for my feelings were precipitously pointing to a racially motivated depiction of white violence. The next morning the world discovered what I assuredly suspected the night before. The following days after the shooting were filled with sights of racially mixed church audiences (normally segregated and unwilling to discuss this fact at the moment) in places of worship holding hands and singing the Lords prayers. Sights of communal prayer, shared tears, and hardened faces were captured through the lenses of still photography and video apparatuses from sources such as the New York Times and Fox News. Flowers and other symbols of sympathy are, for the time being, placed at the doorsteps of the church as well. Mourning and celebration of life were mentioned heavily by an array of people put on display by the media.
On the other hand, as the week progressed, not only were further details of the shooting available to the public, but also an assortment of rhetorical misdirections wrapped in hypocrisy began to seep throughout the landscape of America. At times, the verbal stench was hard to bear. As I watched and listened throughout the week, the rage overtook the initial distress and sadness in my heart. The muddied mix of liberal and conservative news organizations and pandering politicians brought to a boil an elixir of emotional and intellectual pain that created one overwhelming conclusion in my mind: The truth about race in America is once again seen as a narrative we choose to avert with due diligence. The all too familiar decaffeinated approach to racialized topics of importance was upon the lips of many. This included many within the media and their invited succubi whose ultimate job was to underwrite their hosts’ initial political perspectives. Oddly enough, perspectives such as Dr. Ben Carson, Republican presidential hopeful, were as rare as recent sightings of unicorns. Further, he stated:
Let’s call this sickness what it is, so we can get on with the healing. If this were a medical disease, and all the doctors recognized the symptoms but refused to make the diagnosis for fear of offending the patient, we could call it madness. But there are people who are claiming that they can lead this country who dare not call this tragedy an act of racism, a hate crime, for fear of offending a particular segment of the electorate.
His GOP political rivals decided to follow another path. In essence, they discussed the matter utilizing a more conservative-staunched narrative. Instead of observing the shooting through a racialized lens, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee both described the attack as an assault on religion’s liberties. In order to move the focus from the presence and current effect of a country built on systematic and racialized oppression, Bill O’ Riley, used the art of political and social deflection by interviewing the likes of David Clarke, Milwaukee County Sherriff. This tactic focused on illustrating that Blacks are not in danger from Whites, but from other Black elements within their own communities. Mr. Clarke states:
As a Black American, I do not live in fear in the United States…a persons fear has to be based on rationalization. I face more danger and I feel more danger putting my uniform everyday and going in the American ghetto to police.
When O’Riley asked if Clarke “had come across white supremacy in Milwaukee,” and if white supremacy, as stated by some in the media, was a legitimate rationale for the underlying cause of the shooting in South Carolina. Clarke argued:
[Clarke laughs]…that is high hyperbole and demagoguery…[those who used this argument] want to keep the animosity stoked up, this division between people. But I got over that a long time ago.
Fox “News” also used Bishop E. W. Jackson, of Virginia. He argued,
Most people jump to conclusions about race…I long for the day when we stop doing that in our country…He didn’t chose a bar. He didn’t choose a basketball court. He chose a church. And we need to be looking at that very closely.
In connection with divergent tactics to avoid in-depth conversations about white racism, many in the media and political candidates have exceptionally targeted the conveyance of forgiveness by the victims’ families and other Blacks within the community. To me, their actions are astounding and wonderful. But their actions have also served as a two-edged sword that has lead many (white) politicians to use it as a focal point while avoiding the hard questions about racism in this country.
Even though the killer at the time had yet to be captured, the clues leading one to conclude the shooting was racially motivated were quite clear. But people such as Governor Nikki Haley missed the crumbs of evidence due to their fear of alienating the right-winged conservative base of their political party. This was evident within Governor Haley’s outré tweet Wednesday night. She wrote:
While we do not yet know all of the details, we do know that we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another. Please join us in lifting up the victims and their families with our love and prayers.
While flaunting their sympathy, others such as GOP presidential candidates and heads of government expectedly and typically avoided the topic of race and gun legislation. For example, Rand Paul spoke to a group of religious conservatives and said, “It’s people not understanding where salvation comes from.” In addition, Rick Santorum stated:
All you can do is pray for those and pray for our country. This is one of those situations where you just have to take a step back and say we — you know, you talk about the importance of prayer in this time and we’re now seeing assaults on our religious liberty we’ve never seen before…It’s a time for deeper reflection beyond this horrible situation
Baseless fearmongers such as Donald Trump even exposed their own narcissism and need for intense psychotherapy by making the death of nine innocent individuals about themselves.
The overall bobbing and weaving performed by these and others like Governor Nikki Haley, Ted Cruz to Marco Rubio were amazingly inept. It was not until more information confounding the initial clues (such as the obvious symbolizing of the pro-apartheid flags upon the jacket of the domestic terrorists or his connection to a white supremacist groups) that these same political pawns moved chaotically to the “left” during their performance of the cowboy bump on issues such as removal of the Rebel Dixie flag from South Carolina state property. Regardless, in terms of the flag being seen as a racist symbol in a state many feel shows its white oppressive teeth quite often in order to remind Blacks exactly where they are in terms of the hierarchies pertaining to power and humanity, Governor Nikki Haley once said,
What I can tell you is over the last three and a half years, I spent a lot of my days on the phones with CEOs and recruiting jobs to this state. I can honestly say I have not had one conversation with a single CEO about the Confederate flag.
After licking a finger and thusly putting it up in order to determine which way the political winds were blowing, she at that time did not call for the removal of the Dixie flag from state property. As long as it is politically convenient and creates no harm to your base, erring on the side of right is definitely seen as in fashion. Only later did she act.
Legislative initiatives to take down the flag down are simply the absolute least possible thing that can actually occur within the state of South Carolina. Is the creation of an authentic dialogue concerning white racism and current racial segregation within the country, and specifically in the state of South Carolina on the dockets for further analysis? No? Well surely the manner in which humanity was shown to the shooter of nine Blacks versus the behavior of law officers in the heinous shooting of Walter Scott will create healthy dialogue pertaining to racialized differential treatment of law enforcement? Are we at least going to recognize and discuss the fact that the Charleston County Magistrate, James B. Gosnell, who is overseeing the initial proceedings of the killer’s trial has said “nigger” in open court? No? Maybe deal with the fact that South Carolina is one of only five states that does not have hate crimes legislation? No? Are we as a nation going to at least change some of the names of the streets that represent pro-slavery historical Charleston characters or remove monuments of the likes of that celebrate historical individuals such as Dr. J. Marion Sims who is essentially in the same league, and hopefully burning in the same hell, as Josef Mengele? No? Oh well.
It is important to recognize that this city and this state were both built and flourished due to the huge slave trade that flourished in Charleston. By 1860, there were roughly 4 million Black slaves in the U.S. Importantly, ten percent of those slaves resided in chains and racial oppression in South Carolina. With a past such as this, in combination with our country’s avoidance of confronting a brutal history that continues to have power over the minds and actions of a great many non-Blacks regarding Black Americans, the rise of white hate groups and hate crimes, and ramifications of the racialized tongue-and-cheek political satire of members of the GOP, the Dixie flag is the least of South Carolina’s current and future worries.
The funerals for the Charleston shooting victims – all nine of them: Cynthia Hurd, 54; Susie Jackson, 87; Ethel Lance, 70; DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49; Clementa Pinckney, 41; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Daniel Simmons Sr., 74; Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45; and Myra Thompson, 59, – continue with regularity, each one a painful reminder that the violence of white supremacy costs lives.
President Obama stepped to the podium and into this difficult moment in US history to eulogize Rev. Clementa Pinckney. And in delivering the eulogy for Rev. Pinckney, Obama found grace. If you haven’t watched the whole speech, you can here (37:58):
The transcript is available, but it’s a speech that is better viewed than read.
In his analysis of the speech, John Dickerson, writing at Slate, had this to say about the President’s theme of ‘grace':
This was not a rhetorical exercise, or not merely one. It was a demonstration of the power the president had found in the example of the people of Charleston—both the living and the dead. He wasn’t just telling. He was showing—the power he was trying to summon in this speech came from his own feeling of gratitude and obligation to serve as an example of grace. Even if you didn’t agree with any of what the president said, the distance the president traveled in this one week was a kind of testimony of its own. By the end of his oration, the president was leading the congregation in an impromptu rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
There was something incredibly powerful and moving in the choice of ‘grace’ as a theme to tie this speech together, and perhaps one of the elements that so resonated for me is the way that it reframed the talk about ‘forgiveness’ of the shooter. In his analysis at The Atlantic, James Fallows takes this up when he says:
It allowed him to recast one part of the shooting’s aftermath in the most glorious way. When the families of the nine murdered victims told the killer that they forgave him, one undertone of their saintliness was that we might be in for another “noble victim” episode. Black people would be killed or abused; they would prove their goodness by remaining calm; and in part because of their magnanimity, nothing would change.But by characterizing their reaction as a reflection of grace rather than mere “forgiveness,” Obama was able to present it as something much different than patient victimhood…”
Fallows has a long, section-by-section break down of the speech if you want to know more about the way the speech worked, which is interesting if you’re interested in how speeches work.
If you’re still just trying to come to terms with the awful events in Charleston, have a listen to President Obama’s speech and find some grace.